Mick Glancy’s life has been ‘tied up’ since 1982, when he met and married his Liverpudlian wife Christina and secured a job as an able seaman with CalMac. Four decades later, he sees both as guarantors of a happy life. Interview by CRSC magazine editor Andrew Clark.
At the start of each sea voyage, Mick Glancy takes up position on Finlaggan’s foredeck and secures the anchors. Similarly, five minutes before reaching port, he ‘clears’ them by taking off the guillotine and removing the strop from the eye so that they are free for use. It’s a relatively simple precautionary routine, but as the ship’s ‘chippy’ (carpenter), it is Mick’s responsibility to see that the mechanism is working — just in case there is an emergency and the master gives the order for an anchor to be dropped.
You might think that, after 40 years of working for the same company, Mick would have become jaded by deck routine. Not so. “I love my job”, he says, citing the variety of tasks assigned to the ‘chippy’. The job title goes back to old MacBrayne days, when a senior member of the deck crew, known as the carpenter, would act as a ‘Mr Fixit’, responsible for greasing the anchors and davits, and solving all manner of practical problems on deck. When you meet a crewman of Mick’s experience, you can’t help realising that, beneath the bluff, unassuming exterior, he plays an essential — if largely unseen — part in the smooth running of the ship.
To the average traveller driving onto Finlaggan at Kennacraig, Mick is just one of the men in yellow jackets, guiding you towards the correct lane of the vehicle deck and telling you where and when to stop. It’s a well-ordered system: the loading officer (usually the chief officer) decides how best to apportion space with a view to keeping the trim of the ship — especially important if you have a 40-ton articulated lorry on board. His instructions are then put into action by the bosun, the ‘chippy’ and four able seamen, working in coordination.
And yes, Mick has encountered his share of awkward drivers. “Some just don’t pay attention, and you have to find a way of stopping them,” he says. “Others are on their mobile phone, and you have to tell them to get off it. You also come across the occasional customer who refuses to park close-up — ‘I don’t want to scratch my car’. But if you don’t keep them tight, you can end up losing another space, and that has consequences for a fully booked voyage.”
All this comes under the bracket of ‘safety at sea’. “That’s the main part of the job,” says Mick. “You’ve got to know your drills. We do fire drills every week, usually on a Sunday morning in port. It can take up to a couple of hours.”
Born in the south Lanarkshire town of Hamilton in April 1959, Mick grew up in a family with maritime connections. His father’s brother was a cook on the Clyde turbine Queen Mary and had two sons who went deep-sea. Mick went to sea at the age of 16, starting with Denholms at Gravesend as a deck boy on a transatlantic vehicle carrier.
After progressing to BP tankers, he joined the Scottish Ship Management pool in Glasgow, securing a job on the banana boats — where he struck up a friendship with a Liverpudlian shipmate called Michael Gibson. In 1980 Mick dropped in to see the Gibson household while visiting the Mersey on a Denholm coaster, and promptly fell in love with Michael’s sister Christina. They married in 1982 — the year Mick joined CalMac as a deckhand on the car ferry Caledonia. Now 63, Mick hardly shows his age, “but I’m probably the longest serving crewman in the fleet.”
His first five years with the company were spent on the Oban-Craignure run — Caledonia in summer, Glen Sannox in winter. Caledonia gets the thumbs-down not because of her limited capacity but because crew accommodation was beneath the car deck “and she moved about a lot”. As for the ‘Sannox’, there was only one shower for the entire deck crew and the galley was tiny. “But she was a good car carrier and could take 1,200 passengers.”
He then spent seven years on Claymore on the Barra/’Boisdale run, heading out three nights a week from Oban to reach Castlebay at 7am, and serving Coll and Tiree on alternate days.
Claymore was “a good sea boat. The hardest part of the job was the cattle sales — herding the sheep and cows along the pier, loading them on the side-ramp and marshalling them into the pens that we had to put up specially. It could be wild. The trick was to get the first one in, and the rest would follow. After offloading them, we had to wash down the deck — not the best part of the job.”
After Claymore left the fleet in 1997, Mick transferred to Isle of Arran — now elevated from able seaman to ‘chippy’. As on Claymore, crew accommodation was “doubled up, so you had to get on well with the person sharing the same cabin. We’d all get together in the mess room — Isle of Arran was a happy ship, a friendly ship, though she could be a bit rolly.”
When Hebridean Isles moved to the Islay run in 2000, Mick transferred to her and quickly noted the difference: she was the first CalMac boat he had known with single cabins, albeit with shared shower and toilet.
Finlaggan, new in 2011, was another big improvement: every crew member now had their own cabin with en suite shower and toilet. “It makes a huge difference”, says Mick. “If you have a stressful day, you want to come back to your own space and chill out, without anyone around to annoy you.”
Not surprisingly, he describes Finlaggan as “by far the best boat I’ve worked on. She is more stable at sea. The accommodation is better and there is plenty of camaraderie among the crew — that’s the best bit. Unlike the old days, when you were allowed to drink, it’s not an alcohol-generated camaraderie.”
When Mick joined the company 40 years ago, CalMac was still “like a family. Now it’s a bit too big, like a corporation. But it’s a good employer. If you have family problems, they give you time off.”
As CalMac has grown, so has Mick’s family. He has three children and two grandchildren. Retirement is three years away, but he already knows that, when it eventually comes, he will happily trade in his ‘chippy’ skills for DIY jobs and family duties at home in Liverpool. “I’m looking forward to it….”
Thanks to Alex Forrest, Marino Giorgetti and Guy Robertson.
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Published on 27 November 2022